The 2021 Tribeca Festival recently concluded its run, and one of its highlights was the COVID-set romantic comedy 7 Days (our review here). Directed by Roshan Sethi, and co-written by Sethi and his real-life partner Karan Soni, the movie stars Soni and Geraldine Viswanathan as Ravi and Rita, who meet on a date planned by their old-fashioned Indian parents hoping to set up an arranged marriage. The date is quite awkward, but cordial enough, yet things take an even more uncomfortable turn when COVID lockdowns force them to stay together in Rita’s home for the foreseeable future.
While the circumstances have cultural and COVID specificity, Sethi and Soni are utilizing these elements to set up some classic rom-com stakes through which these two characters can forge a relationship with many ebbs and flows. It’s a demonstration that the romantic comedy is alive and well when you have voices as sharp and dimensional as these to steer the ship.
After the festival wrapped up, I was able to sit down (over Zoom) with Sethi, Soni, and Viswanathan to discuss their charming, emotional, and wonderfully thoughtful new film 7 Days. We start by digging into the circumstances that caused the film’s creation in the first place, including Sethi’s desire to build a second career for himself outside of being a working physician, and then discuss how significant finding romantic and platonic love can be in your life as you watch those you care for the most grow and evolve. It was an incredibly entertaining, and genuinely moving, conversation that I’m thrilled to be able to share.
Read on for my interview with Roshan Sethi, Karan Soni, and Geraldine Viswanathan.
Mitchell Beaupre: Roshan and Karan, where did this idea come from for you? Who was the first one to wake up and say, “Hey, I have this really great idea for a script”?
Karan Soni: That was Roshan.
Roshan Sethi: Yeah, I finished my residency on June 27th, 2020 last year, almost exactly a year ago now. I wasn’t due to start attending for another few months and I felt very aimless and directionless. That was at a time when the industry was completely shut down, so Karan was also not working. I really wanted to make something because I didn’t want us to just sit around, waiting for everything to reopen. I initially had a horrible idea for a movie that we fortunately didn’t make, and then Karan came up with this idea, which I much prefer. It was a little based on our own cultural, personal family experiences of arranged marriage, and both of us being children of arranged marriages.
MB: Geraldine, you and Karan of course go back a few years now from working on Miracle Workers together. At what point in the process did they reach out to you for this project?
Geraldine Viswanathan: I think it was in July. They wrote the script in like five days or something insane, maybe not even that. Karan sent it to me and said, “Hey, we’ve written this script that we want to try and get made now, would you come and do it?” I thought it was crazy, but I just had a good feeling about it. I knew it would work. I read the script, and I was tearing up at the end.
MB: Were you in a similar state where you were feeling creatively stifled and wanting to do something?
GV: Definitely, although my reaction was a little different from Roshan’s, where I was like (leaning back) “yeah, I’m gonna do nothing”. When this came along though it was so great, and it was such a treat to be working again and collaborating. I think that was the thing I missed the most.
MB: Roshan, I know you’re still a working physician for part of the year. Was getting into being a filmmaker your attempt at getting a real job instead of just slacking off, saving lives all day?
RS: I honestly think the reason I have two careers is because I’m gay. A lot of gay people struggle with that feeling of being broken and unworthy. It pushes them to superhuman levels of achievement and ambition. I have so much ambition, more than I really should, more than any one person should, but it’s really only now that I’m starting to slow down as I found love with Karan.
KS: This is the chill version.
RS: This is the chillest I’ve ever felt.
KS: On maybe your 20th interview of the day.
RS: We’re getting that number down.
MB: I’m gay as well, and I’ve always loved rom-coms ever since I was a kid. They’ve been like comfort food for me, but the majority of history in the genre, like pretty much anything else, has been dominated by cis straight white narratives. Lately we’ve seen a surge of new voices and perspectives when it comes to rom-coms, whether it’s Always Be My Maybe or The Big Sick or Happiest Season. Is it exciting to see the genre opening up like that and re-energizing a genre that many people were saying was dead?
KS: I love rom-coms too, and also we grew up on Bollywood, which is almost all like romantic drama and comedy and everything. Actually, the first thing we tried writing together way before COVID was this gay romance loosely based on our story, but that just never came about. We still want to do that at some point. But yeah, this really felt like such a fresh take on that genre. We also really loved the idea when we were writing it up of upending the stereotype when it comes to female characters. In these movies they’re always the thirsty ones trying to get married and trying to lock this person in and convince them. We thought this was a fun way to do it, not only with the Indian perspective, but also for me to be thirsty and desperate, which is my sweet spot, so I’m drawing on something real there.
RS: I think that rom-coms are how we socialize the masses. That’s my radical hot take. It’s how we decide what gender roles are, and what love looks like, and we imbibe those ideas widely. Everybody is consuming the same pieces of entertainment, and they teach us about what each gender does in each position. This movie is still a straight love story, so it’s not a pioneer in that respect, but it does challenge the conventional gender roles within rom-coms because Karan is so, as he said, thirsty. We’ve seen rom-com after rom-com where the woman is trying to convince the man who just can’t settle down, just can’t commit. When will he commit? And the woman’s like, “It’s me! I’m the one! It’s me!” So, this is very different in that respect. We heard someone watched the movie and they were like, “Wow, I can’t believe how comfortable Karan was not acting macho”, which I thought was such an interesting and like 1995 thing to say, but it’s true.
MB: Geraldine, was that part of the appeal for you in taking on this part? Getting to play a female character in a rom-com who is not super interested in settling down or trying to get out there and start making babies?
GV: I think that’s what made the character ring so true for me. She’s fiercely independent, and is good on her own. She is going on these dates purely for other reasons. Financial reasons, even. I think that’s what I connected with the most, was her independence, and her tough exterior – that hardness that we don’t really see much of in rom-coms other than the jaded old woman who is like, (puts on an older woman accent) “I’ve been there.”
MB: Arranged marriage is brought up in a really wonderful way in the film, as this isn’t a “message movie” in any way about the misconceptions that Western cultures can have about arranged marriage. Rather, it’s simply in normalizing it and showing this as something as regular as love marriages that those misconceptions are drawn out.
RS: I think we both didn’t have a message to say, because we felt like both ways were so reasonable. We both grew up in the shadow of arranged marriage. When we did the When Harry Met Sally style interviews, I found those so interesting because my parents are one of them, and I had heard a version of their story briefly as a kid, but I was just not interested in it then. As an adult though, I found it so much more interesting, and I think those interviews give the movie another layer of something to think about.
We never tried to answer any questions around that idea, we were focused on these two characters and their different perspectives, but I think one of the byproducts of the finished movie is that it does present this sweet idea that arranged marriages aren’t this horrible prison that you’ve seen. There’s a very high divorce rate in the Western world, so no one has figured it out. It’s nice that this movie can present that perspective from the people that have actually lived it.
MB: One of the things that anyone can relate to in the movie is the idea that we learn so much about another person the more our relationship with them grows, whether it’s romantic or platonic. You find these little surprises and things that you didn’t know about the other person. Geraldine and Karan, as you’ve worked together for years now, I’d love to know for each of you what’s something about the other that surprised you as you got to know them better?
GV: I’ll say it’s been really beautiful to be Karan’s friend throughout him meeting Roshan and coming out and finding love. I literally could start crying talking about this. I’d say in our relationship that’s been the biggest discovery, and gift as a friend, has been to watch that.
KS: Likewise, I was thinking when we first started Miracle Workers in 2017, you had just come to America for the first time that year. You were 23 years old or something, and it was such a crazy whirlwind and you didn’t have a home really. To see you create this whole world of friends, but also just to see you become so independent, it’s been really cool. I’ll be so sad when the show ends, because it’s such a nice thing to have been with people since that time.
MB: To bring it further into the real world romantic relationship here, Karan, what would you say was something you’ve learned in getting to know Roshan over the years?
KS: Oh my god, he’s changed completely. He was much more reserved when we first met. Now his nickname is Princess, so that should tell you everything. Here he is now just out in the streets living his life. I think from my perspective he’s really blossomed in the last few years to his true self, which is just someone who loves and cries and hugs and seems happier.
RS: Honestly, I only came out three years ago, and before I came out I had a pretty serious anger problem. I really had trouble regulating my emotions. So much of that was because I wanted to appear masculine, and to hide my softness and my weakness, or what I perceived as my softness and weakness. When I came out, and especially as I began dating Karan, I really transformed and changed. I’ve found so much kindness and softness, and found who I think I really am. The temper has slipped away slowly, and I’ve become who I think I was meant to be. Spending all of that time from the age of 11 to 30 lying about who you are takes its toll, but dating Karan and being gay has changed my life.
MB: With the film taking place during the COVID era, it brings up the fact that even though we’ve seen a lot of division surface recently, we’ve also seen people brought together as they understand more about the people they love and how to value those people in their life. Is that something that you’ve all felt reflected in your personal life, as we see it reflected in the film?
KS: I think so. We moved in during COVID, so that was that, but I think I saw something in my friend’s too where people either instantly broke up or got married. It makes a lot of sense because, at least for me personally, there were no distractions, and it was just like this is what it is. There’s nothing you can hide. It really made things more clear for people.
RS: I think it’s really interesting to watch, especially because both Karan and Geraldine are younger than me. I was in medicine, so I’ve been exposed to death and dying since I was 21, but I think this younger generation has lost their innocence in a really hard way this year, to see so much loss. Some of that is in the movie too, that feeling of loneliness and disconnection which so many people are encountering for the first time this year.
GV: I definitely feel like all my relationships have deepened in this time, and everything else has sort of fallen away. It’s been a very equalizing, humbling experience. In a way that is part of the movie. Due to COVID they have to quarantine together, and they have to show their true selves to each other. I think everyone’s priorities came into focus, and life has felt less certain, so we really have felt the need to enjoy it now. To show that love to the people you’re with now because you can’t really look too far into the future, which is a great lesson for life anyway because we never know what’s going to happen.
MB: I’ve only got a little bit of time left, so I’d love to ask you all about some of the things you have coming up. Roshan, this is your first time as a director, and you’ve got Call Jane coming up, which you co-wrote the script for. What can we expect from that, and are you interested in directing again in the future?
RS: Call Jane was mainly written by my former writing partner, Hayley Shore. To be honest, I’m not really involved with the movie because the way it usually works in the movies is you write it, and then nobody ever calls you again. That one is very much in the hands of Phyllis Nagy, and Elizabeth Banks and Sigourney Weaver. They’re the forces bringing that movie into existence, although it did originate out of Hayley’s own lived experience. In terms of what we’re going to do next, I think we’d like to do a gay marriage movie, to be completely honest. It’s not an emotionally easy thing to do, to put that together and make it funny and make it moving. I think that’s where our heads are at.
MB: Karan and Geraldine, is there anything you can tease about the new season of Miracle Workers?
GV: Where to begin? It’s the Oregon Trail this season, so it’s conveniently all outside. There’s guns. I feel like it’s classic hi-jinks. We have some great guest stars this season.
KS: I think for a lot of us, we got to take on new characters in the second season, but for me at least the third season feels like an even bigger departure from what we’ve played before. That’s been really, really fun. Some different writers came on board for this season, so they really were able to shake it all up. People are paired together in different ways, so it feels like the biggest shift so far.
MB: I’m really excited for it! I’ve got to wrap up, but I just want to say congratulations to all three of you on such a great movie. It’s one of my favorites of the year so far, and I’m sure it’ll be one of those rom-coms that I go back to over and over again.
RS: Thank you for watching it, and for your kind words. It’s great to be interviewed by someone gay, so keep that up.
MB: I’ll try my best!
KS: Yeah, don’t go back in the closet, now.
RS: Definitely print that.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]